Timothy Baker talks Path of the Dead (INTERVIEW)

Good morning, all! Please join me in extending a warm welcome to Timothy Baker, retired firefighter and an aspiring, perspiring, horror writer. Tim's debut novel, Path of the Dead, just hit the shelves (check out Donald's review, in case you missed it), and he's also featured in the forthcoming Midian Unmade: Tales of Clive Barker's Nightbreed (for which my entry was rejected, but we certainly won't hold that against him - LOL).

Q: Thanks for taking the time to stop by today, Timothy. For those who haven't yet had a chance to check out your latest, Path of the Dead, please tell us a little about yourself.

Thanks for having me here. A little, eh? Okay: single white male of Scot/English descent, 57 years old, salt and pepper hair, 180 pounds, I love moonless walks amongst crypts and…wait…this isn't a dating site is it? Right. After a twenty-four year career in firefighting, I retired and decided to give this writing thing a try. I proved to myself that I could throw words down at a steady pace participating in NaNoWriMo, in which I produced a novel. It was my first, of course, not great, but not bad either. Good idea and I'll someday pull it back out and polish it up. I've also been a martial artist for several years, and have opened my own dojo teaching Judo and Aikido. It takes away the stress of writing and they sort of balance each other out to keep me sane. Not going to get too personal here because I really want people to like me and take me home and feed me and do my laundry.

Q: The journey from 'aspiring' to 'accomplished' can be a long one, even in the era of small presses and digital publishing. With several anthologies already under cover, what has the journey to publication been like with Path of the Dead?

I think I've been pretty lucky. One can read so many things from other writers, even the most famous, of how long they struggled to get that first acceptance letter. Some had rejections in the hundreds. Scared me. Within a year after NaNoWriMo and about five rejections, I received my first acceptance for a short story from Tim Marquitz for Fading Light: An Anthology of the Monstrous. Well, that was the kicker that kept me going. I had been working on Path of the Dead for a year and needed it polishing up, so I contacted Nine Worlds Media and gave it to J.M. Martin for editing. And, as it so happens, he is the creative director and co-publisher at Ragnarok Publications along with Editor-in-chief Tim Marquitz. I loved what I saw them doing, so basically, I ask Martin, "You've read it. You liked it. Y'all want it?" And the rest will go down in dark history.

Q: In terms of writing, what comes easiest for you, and where do you struggle the most? Is it the title? The first paragraph? The last chapter? The cover blurb?

Titles are easy for me. They act just like essay thesis statements. I always stay on track with the title. I usually have the oh-so-vital first line in my head before I start and I just go from there. By the time I get halfway through a story, if not before, I know how it ends, so that last paragraph is like riding downhill with the clutch in. Cover blurbs? Oh man, just take me out in the country, shoot me in the head, and throw me in a ditch.

Q: Ha - I love the honesty there! Sometimes, characters can take on a life of their own, pulling the story in directions you hadn't originally anticipated, especially when developing a series that touches on multiple genres. Were there any twists or turns in Path of the Dead that surprised you, or really challenged your original plans for the story?

Not really, no. I pants'd my first novel and the characters went kind of wild or fell by the wayside, all according to how I felt that day or writing. With PoTD I took more control and made an outline of sorts, marking the major turning points and leaving open spots in between to give me room to create spontaneously. I knew where I was going from the beginning and what I wanted to accomplish. This idea of characters coming alive and controlling the story creeps me out. Like, who's the boss here?

Q: With Path of the Dead being the first book in the Hungry Ghosts saga, how much do you know about where the series will go? Do you have an overriding plot arc laid out, or is more a matter of seeing how each book develops the characters and the themes?

Honestly, I didn't intend for it to be a series. It became that after a conversation with J.M. Martin. That's why PoTD can stand on its own. Saying that, I'm still thinking on it, taking the survivors beyond the last chapter. I'm considering whether to keep it straight up zombie story, or bringing in more dark fantasy elements, continuing to do what I set out to do; writing the most unusual, unable to predict zombie genre novel. The latter intrigues me greatly.

Q: Buddhism and Zombies – that’s an odd mix, to say the least. Where did the idea for the mountain setting and the clash of mythologies come from?

I felt I needed to write a zombie story for their popularity and for the challenge. But I had grown tired of the current zombie tropes and wanted to break the mold. The majority of zombie-poc tales happen in an urban setting within a Christian culture (though that may not be emphasised, it's certainly there). So, being that the undead apocalypse is a worldwide event, I considered more rural settings with cultures that may take a very different view of the phenomenon. With my interest and long study of Buddhism, Tibet seemed like the most natural setting. The actual locale came from a picture I saw while researching of a mountain monastery in Bhutan called Tiger's Nest. It was one of those light bulb moments. A little artistic license moved it from Bhutan to Tibet and Seche La Mountain.

Q: Speaking of mountain monasteries, do you require quiet solitude to write, or do you have a soundtrack to your writing, a particular style of music or other background noise that keeps you in the mood?

Both really. I'm a big rock 'n roll guy, and a huge fan of Blue Öyster Cult, but most of the time I'm listening to classical music, pieces from Tangerine Dream and their ilk, or soundtracks from horror films. I don't listen to anything with singing or lyrics as that only distracts me, makes me want to hum and sing. And sometimes only silence will do.

Q: Ah, you can't go wrong with a little BÖC. When writing, do you ever consider how a reader or reviewer will react, or do you write solely for your own satisfaction?

No. Never. I write the book I want to read.

Q: In terms of reader reactions, what is the strangest or most surprising reaction to your work that you've encountered to -date?

Nothing memorable or spectacularly strange as of yet, but give it time. But a couple of reviewers expressed an adoration for a little side moment, one of those small character things that happened mid-way in the story, that concerns the boy, Chodren, and an encounter with a frog. I'm very pleased that they took special notice of it because for me it's a character defining scene and a sealing connection between my two protagonists.

Q: To turn from pen to page for a moment, is there a particular author who has influenced or inspired your writing? Somebody who either made you want to write in the first place, or who just refreshes your literary batteries?

I think the two authors that I encountered when I was very young, Poe and Ray Bradbury, have influenced me a great deal. Currently, Cormac McCarthy strikes me between the eyes with his rule breaking while still making sense and his powerful prose. And Elmore Leonard for his lean, to the point writing, and his high skill with dialogue.

Q: Assuming you had total creative control over the production, who would you cast as the leading roles, were Path of the Dead to hit the big screen?

*laughs* That is a tough one, being that the cast is non-western. Having never seen a strictly Tibetan film (do they exist?) I would have to go with some Asian actors that are known in the west. Ken Watanabe, Sendhil Ramamurthy, or Yun-Fat Chow as Dorje would be good, though they would have to be aged a bit. I think Sammo Hung would make a great Tenzin. The role of Gu-Lang, the warrior nun, would take some special casting as she's bigger and tougher than the men!

Q: Before we let you go, what can we look forward to from you next? I know you have two sword and sorcery collections on the horizon, but is a second chapter of the Hungry Ghosts saga on the horizon, or perhaps a completely different tale?

Hungry Ghosts Book 2 is beyond the horizon right now, though in development. Right now, I'm choosing between a supernatural, adult crime thriller called Country Dark, or a YA tale concerning a witch house, the inheritor, and three, shape-changing cat-to-woman witches. And I'll always be writing short stories in between because I just love to write them!

Either way, I'm sure we'll all be looking forward to it. Thanks for stopping by, Tim!


About the Author

Timothy Baker is a retired firefighter and an aspiring, perspiring, horror writer. He is published in Fading Light: Anthology of the Monstrous by Angelic Knight Press, and the forthcoming Midian Unmade: Tales of Clive Barker's Nightbreed from Tor. Tim has also received a commendation in the Australian Horror Writer’s Association 2009 Short Story Competition.


About the Book

Path of the Dead by Timothy Baker
Published May 5th 2014 by Ragnarok Publications

Nestled on the foot of Tibet’s sacred Seche La Mountain is the village of Dagzê. The normally quiet streets are bustling with the steady stream of arrivals and preparations for the coming Festival of the Medicine King; a time of celebration, healing, and renewal. But a shadow is sweeping the world, a plague of apocalyptic proportions—the dead are rising and devouring the living, and no place is safe where humanity thrives.

As Dagzê burns, overtaken by the hungry undead, five people come together: Lama Tenzin, an elder monk; Gu-lang, the silent warrior nun and Tenzin’s protector; Cheung, a private in The People’s Army, driver and escort of the Lama; ten-year-old Chodren Dawa, witness to his sister’s death and rising; and Dorje Cetan, a Shaolin-trained hermit monk of Seche La and a dreamer of a dark portent. Together they must fight their way out of Dagzê to an abandoned Buddhist hermitage clinging to the mist-shrouded cliffs of Seche La.

With the undead following and gathering at Eagle’s Nest gate, they barricade themselves inside their dead-end haven, and are soon forced to battle the beasts without, as well as the ones within.